World Cup 2014 coverage:

The Dagger: College Basketball Blog

Cal’s Mike Montgomery feels ‘extremely fortunate’ to be alive

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

View photo

.

AP111028136096-1

LOS ANGELES — Cal coach Mike Montgomery is well known for his wry sense of humor, so it's no surprise he opened his conversation with reporters at Pac-12 Media Day by making light of his recent health scare.

"It's good to see everybody," he said. "And in lieu of recent circumstances, it's good to be seen."

Even being strong enough to sit behind a microphone was worth celebrating for Montgomery after the frightening news doctors gave him a month ago. The 64-year-old coach revealed Friday that he had "high-grade" bladder cancer but is now is cancer-free following surgery last week.

Montgomery emphasized he will have no physical limitations this year, adding that he plans to end his leave of absence on Monday when Cal opens the season with an exhibition game against UC San Diego at Haas Pavilion. About the only noticeable difference Montgomery said anyone will see in him after surgery is a little extra perspective about what's important in life.

"It's scary," Montgomery said. "You go from on top of your game and in charge of everything to no longer being in charge. It could have gone the other way, but I'm extremely fortunate it went the way that it did and I'm good to go. It adds some perspective to your life."

The most terrifying part for Montgomery was how much worse it could have been had he gotten tested a few months earlier or a few months later. When Montgomery was diagnosed with bladder cancer last month, the Cal coach said his doctor told him, "Three months ago we wouldn't have found this and six months from now you wouldn't be here."

Not only is Cal guard Jorge Gutierrez elated to have Montgomery back on the sideline starting next week, the senior also pointed out a silver lining to the coach's health scare. Gutierrez said that seeing Montgomery in a vulnerable state strengthened the bond between him and the Cal players. {YSP:MORE}

"I feel like now we feel a little bit more connected," Gutierrez said. "Before we didn't have much of a connection with him outside of basketball, but he opened up a little more and that's helped us to relate with him more.

"He's just a great person. On and off the court, he makes me a better player, a better person and a better student."

Now that Montgomery is able to start thinking about basketball again a bit more, he has a lot to be excited about this season. The return of forward Harper Kamp and guards Gutierrez and Allen Crabbe give Cal a nucleus capable of challenging for the program's second conference title in the past three seasons.

The media selected Cal second behind UCLA in Friday's Pac-12 preseason poll, a projection the Bears are capable of either falling short of or exceeding depending on a multitude of factors.

They need 6-foot-10 sophomore Richard Solomon to improve his back-to-the-basket game and replace Markhuri Sanders-Frison's prodution. They need either Brandon Smith or Minnesota transfer Justin Cobbs to run the offense efficiently at point guard. And most importantly, they need Kamp's oft-injured knees to hold up until the end of the season.

"We're going to do everything we can to make that happen," Montgomery said. "Harper unfortunately just has a knee that's not great, and he puts an inordinate amount of time in to prepare himself to come to practice every day and to get ready to play. It's going to be important that thing doesn't get sore, but at the same time he has to practice enough to get his timing."

That Montgomery can go back to worrying about Kamp's knees rather than his own health problems is great news. It was a tough month for him, but now he's looking forward to returning to the sideline.

Other popular stories on Yahoo! Sports:
Albert Pujols' crossroads complicate the Cardinals' title
Wizards guard feels he is 'better than [Michael Jordan]'
Video: Will Tom Brady, Patriots conquer Steelers again?

View Comments